Sunday, September 8, 2013

Joshua Safran's "Free Spirit"

Joshua Safran is an attorney, writer, speaker, and occasional rabbi, and was featured in the award-winning documentary Crime After Crime, which premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and had its television debut as part of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)'s Documentary Film Club. He is a nationally recognized champion for women's rights and a zealous advocate for survivors of domestic violence and the wrongfully imprisoned. For his work he has received national media coverage and numerous awards. He lives in Oakland, California.

Safran applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Free Spirit: Growing Up On the Road and Off the Grid, and reported the following:
When Saigon fell in 1975, my mother stood on the back porch of her commune in the Haight-Ashbury and cried. Not because of the tear gas or the hashish in the air, but because the Revolution had failed. She’d spent her entire life working to overthrow the government to create a New America, and now - with the end of the war and the Draft - New America was over. Her brothers and sisters were unclenching their fists and surrendering to 9 to 5 jobs. My mother had a choice to make. She had turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. Now she could crawl back on her hands and knees or she could take to the hills to keep the Revolution alive. When I was born she turned her eyes to the hills, and we hitchhiked our way across the west for years, seeking a place for the Revolution in exile. I was raised lamenting the loss of a New America that never was, running from an America I had never known, and searching for a utopia that I would never recognize.

In many ways my account of my childhood in Free Spirit is an immigrant story. It’s just that the foreign land I hailed from was located right here in America. Like many immigrants, what I wanted more than anything else was to assimilate. I dreamt of running water, electricity, and … doughnuts. While living sugarless and off the grid set me apart, I learned that not going to school was what made me truly alien. My mother believed that school was no place for children and page 99 finds me in a small town on Mount Lassen, California struggling to answer the strange question that keeps being asked:
“What grade are you in?”…

I’d spent most of what would have been my kindergarten year traveling around in a funky blue van and a green bus. Now, it was summer and there was no school. And the plan for the coming fall was that my mother would home-school me. Sometimes I’d give this whole narrative as a response, which would leave the questioner silent and bewildered. Other times, I’d simply respond: “I’m home-schooled.” This prompted the questioner to give a sad shake of the head and say to my mother: “Oh, so he’s retarded, then?”

As we hitchhiked home through the tiny cluster of buildings that was Manton, I gazed at the one place in town I’d never been: the elementary school. It was dark, closed for the summer. But in my mind, it was full of potential for the fall.…

My mother’s eyes grew wide with alarm. “You want to go to school!?” She wouldn’t have been more surprised if I’d told her I was leaving to join the Reagan administration. But she’d heard right. I wanted to go to school. “Are you sure, Josh?” I was sure. Deep within me I sensed that school was something kids had to do, even if their mothers told them they didn’t. “You remember what I told you about school, right?” She wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into. “Public school, it’s run by the government, remember?” I assured her she’d trained me so well that I would have no problem withstanding the Capitalist lies and conformist brainwashing that made school so dangerous.
--Adapted from Free Spirit by Joshua Safran. Published by Hyperion Books, a division of the Hachette Book Group. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
This was my first foray into school, and it didn’t turn out well. I was too alien. It wasn’t until sixth grade that I came tumbling out of the forest again to make another stab at real school. It was an awful experience, but there I finally began my process of assimilating into American society.

[Click here for photo of Joshua Safran looking forward to first grade. Little did he know that wandering in woods discussing Marxism wouldn't prepare him for the Darwinism of the school yard.]
Learn more about the book and author at Joshua Safran's website.

--Marshal Zeringue